Today we’re going to look at the “why” behind what makes a seemingly challenging pre-flop decision simple in reality. As you move deeper through a poker tournament, you’ll be called on to make more conclusions about an opposing player’s hand without the luxury of a flop, turn and/or river because the blinds are raised and players are unable to afford putting some of their chips in the pot (by calling or raising) and then folding the hand later. Consider a $3,000 chip stack at the very beginning of a tournament when blinds are $10 for the small blind and $20 for the big blind. $3,000 is 150 big blinds (which is large). Calling a pre-flop raise for 3 big blinds, missing a flop, and folding only costs $60. How does this affect our stack? We’ll have $2,940 chips left, or 147 big blinds and have lost 2% of our stack which is not a big deal. Why? Because we still have plenty of time and chips to see flops and work our poker magic with 147 big blinds. Now consider a $3000 chip stack a bit deeper in a tournament when blinds are $75 for the small blind and $150 for the big blind. $3,000 is now only 20 big blinds and calling a preflop raise for 3 big blinds, missing a flop, and folding will cost $450. We’d then be left with $2,550, or 17 big blinds and would have lost 15% of our stack. This is a much bigger deal and puts more pressure on us to pick up a hand. So as blinds move up and players stack sizes move down, more players will be all-in with their entire tournament on the line in a pre-flop situation. This means that in order to make the correct decision about whether to call, raise, or fold to an all-in, you’ll use additional information like her stack size, your stack size, players in the pot, and table position. This may be a perplexing concept if you are a beginner and we expect you to ask, “so you’re telling me that I can build a picture of what my opponents have without any of the community cards on table???” Yes, let’s look at an example.
Start by taking a look at each seat around the table above. How many big blinds does each seat have? Knowing this readily available information (opponent’s stack size divided by the big blind) becomes solid gold. How? Because in most cases, players will run this line of thinking, “How many chips do I have left? When do the blinds go up? Can I afford to wait for a bigger hand? I may have to move all in right now.” A player with 5 big blinds in the small blind may move all in with something as weak at K-2. On the contrary, a player that is under the gun with a hand as good as 9-9 may fold with 20 big blinds in her stack due to the early table position and knowledge that she will be a “race at best” (50/50 odds or worse) if called by an opposing player. Going all-in with K-2 and folding 9-9 with no raise may seem surprising to the beginner, but rest assured that these are solid plays that I’ve had to make many times. Expect that players may make all-in plays with any two cards and try to keep your cool when taking bad beats in these situations. Our goal is to be ahead consistently when all of the chips are in the middle. The Poker Model Team would be happy to provide specific hand ranges that players typically move all-in with based on stack sizes and table position, just ask.
In the image above, arturo111 elects to go all-in for a tad under 12 big blinds (7,083 divided by 600) from early table position (only 2 seats to his right before the big blind). The action folds to me. When I first started playing poker this decision would have stressed me out. Does he have Kings? Aces? Ace-King? Do I want to “risk it all” right now? I’m having fun, should I just “hang in there” a bit longer? I’ve been losing a lot of all-ins today, maybe I should fold. Are poker and the universe rigged against me? If you are currently questioning yourself like I was, it’s time for a change. To start, a tournament can end in any given hand, so nobody is safe. The key is to make the correct plays over an extended period of time, then find the results. Just because K-K or A-A has me dominated, it is unwise to assume that arturo111 is holding either as the mere chance of being dealt A-A or K-K is around 0.5%. Also, as you’ll see below, A-A and K-K are only two of many hands that fall into the range that arturo111 may be holding considering his number of big blinds and table position. Q-Q is dominating almost all of the others, which should ease some of the stress of making the all-in call. Additionally, many players will minimum raise for value with K-K or A-A in this spot, meaning that they will raise less than all of their chips in order to induce a call or an all-in “over the top.” arturo111 did not make this play which provides further evidence against K-K or A-A. Do you want to “risk it all”? If your hand is beating most of the hands in your opponent’s range, then 100% yes. The most fun you will have playing poker is winning boatloads of money, so let’s focus on making the correct decision and not hanging in there or playing for anything except 1st place. Also remember that each hand is independent and the universe is not rigged against you. Let go of concepts like “momentum” and “heaters” for now, simply play your hands correctly and the rest will take care of itself.
Back to the hand, the 12 big blind all-in hand range from early position could look like J-10, Q-10, K-10, A-10, Q-J, K-J, K-Q, A-J, A-Q, A-K, A-9, and all pocket pairs. Disclaimer that you will see players do “anything with any two cards.” This is why I tighten up my calling range in this spot to A-K, A-Q, 10-10, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, A-A.
Pocket 2s? Why would anyone ever go all-in with pocket 2s? Now we know to never be surprised by an opponent’s all-in hand. Calling with Q-Q was easy in this spot, but does not guarantee a victory. I’ll be about an 80% favorite which is pretty much as good as it get’s in a pre-flop situation. Challenge yourself to make the correct decisions pre-flop. Take note of your opponents stack sizes, table position, and hand ranges as you play to hone your skills. As always, we are here to help.